Participant Story

Jenni Pignatelli

Executive Jenni Pignatelli headshot

Creating Your Own Path to Meet Your Goals

  • Role

    CEO, Pignatelli Holdings
  • Industry

    • Professional Services

The benefits you bring back to those around you, both professionally and personally, as well as the friendships and opportunities, are life changing.

Before becoming CEO of Pignatelli Holdings Limited, Jenni Pignatelli spent years developing skills in leadership, strategy, operational excellence, and technology implementation. As she stepped into her new role as CEO, implementing organizational best practices and key strategic decisions was at the top of her agenda. This brought her to HBS Executive Education where she completed four qualifying topic-focused programs, in addition to the Program for Leadership Development (PLD)—which resulted in her earning HBS alumni status and accessing a wealth of benefits aimed at cultivating lifelong learning.

Why did you apply to the Program for Leadership Development?

At the time, my career and my company's future were at a critical juncture. So, I set forth on the long task of introducing best practices from both an operational and a financial perspective. After increasing net profit in 2019 from the previous calendar year and having a balance-sheet profile that exceeded our best expectations, I believed that it was essential for me to enroll in the Program for Leadership Development at Harvard Business School.

When you began the process of earning HBS alumni status, what drew you to the four topic-focused programs you chose? Was it helpful to speak with HBS Program Advisors?

By turning to HBS Program Advisors for guidance, I was able to tailor the courses that I chose so that they mirrored my specific interests in a bespoke way. Their wealth of knowledge and experience will allow a similar outcome for any candidate in their journey to alumni status.

Two of the four programs focus on internal best practices. Communicating for Impact—Virtual and Driving Organizational Agility—Virtual helped me drive employees to frame their business decisions within the context of the overall benefit to the firm, not simply their own profit center. Our employees needed to take a holistic approach to the firm's overall franchise, interacting with each other and putting forward business development ideas that may not be part of their job description. Driving Organizational Agility—Virtual has been critical in implementing complex business structures and Communicating for Impact—Virtual has allowed a genuine culture of two-way feedback to be established.

By contrast, key strategic decisions—such as new business developments and acquisitions—are made centrally by myself and my senior management. It is here where Disruptive Innovation—Virtual and Behavioral Economics—Virtual have been so impactful. As a vertically integrated business, every step of our product offering needs to be fine-tuned to provide customers with a premium and bespoke offering—not just motivating our own staff, but finding the best external candidates. Studying behavioral economics played to psychological biases and motivational headwinds that inhibit sound decision-making. In my role, it is critical to further develop customer-facing skills and be fast-reacting at all times.

How did PLD and the four topic-focused programs build off one another?

There was a symbiotic relationship among all four topic-focused programs. I started with Disruptive Innovation—Virtual because my first objective was to grow the business. I could only do this by recognizing how to implement innovation in order to achieve sustainable growth. No business plan could have been possible without the full buy-in of all employees, which is why Communicating for Impact—Virtual and Driving Organizational Agility—Virtual were so critical.

At the end of the strategic overhaul, I needed to understand the motivational biases (Behavioral Economics—Virtual) of our employees in order to embed the communication and organizational disciplines that were implemented. Ultimately, the Program for Leadership Development brought everything together. Within the construct of a personal transformational journey, learning from current case studies solidified all the leadership skills I needed to drive change and enduring outcomes.

What were the biggest differences between HBS's virtual programs and those with on-campus components?

Virtual programs were very topic focused and content driven, with breakout sessions allowing varied experiences to be shared within the cohort. The on-campus sessions allowed in-person access to faculty and a more immersive and inductive learning experience, with a huge number of networking possibilities. The on-campus experiences were transformational from the perspective of relationship-building and future opportunities—the chance to share experiences with like-minded people from around the world, form lifelong friendships, build a community of support, and create new ventures together.

Can you describe the benefits of attending both comprehensive leadership programs (CLPs) and topic-focused programs at HBS?

The two were quite different in terms of scope and academic challenges. The CLPs could be described as holistic whereas the topic programs were more focused. PLD allowed me to develop and leverage my core leadership skills, while the focused programs enabled me to fine-tune and create a competitive edge in my industry.

In your opinion, what are the greatest benefits of being an HBS alumna?

Aside from the learning development, the exposure immediately created networking opportunities that will offer me career opportunities going forward. Beyond networking, HBS offers alumni a knowledge library that will stay with you for life.

What advice would you give to other PLD graduates who are considering earning alumni status?

Go for it! There are only positives. The financial and personal time invested pales by comparison with the rewards. This has been the most transformational journey for me. The benefits you bring back to those around you, both professionally and personally, as well as the friendships and opportunities, are life changing.

By participating in the Program for Leadership Development and additional qualifying programs, you have the opportunity to earn lifetime HBS alumni status. To learn more about how PLD puts you on the path toward achieving HBS alumni status, visit the Program for Leadership Development: Earning Alumni Status page or contact the Program Advising Team (executive_education@hbs.edu).

Featured Program

Program for Leadership Development